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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona sand volleyball ready for NCAA Championships

Darien Bakas
Arizona sand volleyball athlete Tyler Lucas dives for a dig during a match against California State Northridge on Saturday, March 26.

After finishing runner-up to USC at the Pac-12 Conference Championships, the Arizona sand volleyball team will head to the 2016 NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships from May 6-8 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Arizona sent two duos to the NCAA tournament last season, but this is the first time that it will compete in the team tournament.

Arizona head coach Steve Walker was previously an associate head coach for the women’s indoor volleyball team and moved to head coach of sand volleyball in 2013.

Each season has presented a new challenge in terms of player changes and team dynamic. While Arizona sand volleyball is a fairly new program, it has already established itself as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Championships.

“This team is no different from the other NCAA finalists,” Walker said. “I knew that building this team from the fall wasn’t a challenge necessarily against the other teams, but mainly against time. There was a question of ‘can we put in the work every single day?’ and ‘how quickly can we get where we need to be in terms of getting good enough for the Pac-12 tournament play?’”

The team has only one returning duo, twins McKenna and Madison Witt. They finished as runner-ups in the conference tournament.

Jianna Bonomi and Katarina Schulz will play as the No. 2 duo. They also won their court play against ASU in the tournament.

While they are now teammates, Bonomi and Schulz are also former rivals. They previously played against each other during their undergraduate play in the West Coast Conference, but the two paired up at Arizona because of their past history.

“We had to prove that we could play together, and be nearly perfect in practice,” Bonomi said.

See the full bracket here.

For the duo, this is just icing on the cake to make the NCAA Championships. Both have played in the national tournament before, including sand and indoor volleyball, and they provide a wealth of experience and mental toughness.

“We have experience going post season and pushing through that final home stretch,” Bonomi said. “Based on this last weekend in the conference play, we’ve established ourselves and made a name for our program.”

The Wildcats know a final push is needed to finish the season strong, and from day one, the team established the goal of an NCAA Championship appearance. However, it had to make plenty of adjustments to get there.

“Coach Walker has a system of how he wants to play, and everyone was learning it in the fall,” Schulz said. “And we caught on early in the spring. Once we started learning it better, things just started to click.”

The team’s improvement will be on display during the first round this weekend.

The first day of action begins on May 6 from 12-3 p.m., and will continue on Saturday and Sunday.

It will be televised on TruTV.

Follow Gia Trevisan on Twitter

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